Sadiq Khan has often said he wants to be the be most pro-business mayor London has ever had.
We have welcomed this commitment from Khan in the past, particularly when it comes to standing up for access to talent and improved infrastructure. However, it is hard to square the mayor’s soundbite with his full-throated support for the proposed Uber ban.
The announcement on Friday that the regulator, Transport for London (which is chaired by Khan), would not renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital stunned millions of customers and tens of thousands of drivers. Uber reacted by saying that the decision “would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies”.
It’s hard to reach any other conclusion. Uber’s top staff in London say they were shocked by TfL’s ruling – not least because, in the words of Uber UK’s head of cities, “the last time they audited us they found there were zero errors in our processes”.
A costly legal battle will now ensue, as Uber appeals against the ban. If there are elements of Uber’s operations that set them at odds with the regulations covering private hire operators, then of course the firm should bring its practices into line.
They insist they have already done so and that the decision was motivated purely by politics, with a spokesman accusing the mayor and TfL of caving into pressure “from a small number of individuals and groups that want to protect the status quo.” In response, a petition calling on the mayor to reverse the ban has attracted nearly 700,000 names.
Anyone who has used the app will know that TfL’s decision to ban it on the grounds of safety is bizarre, given that customers can track their ride via GPS and share their location and driver details with friends. The heavy-handed and regressive decision to try and banish Uber from the capital’s streets is a slap in the face for the millions of Londoners who chose the service, and a potentially devastating blow to the 40,000 drivers who rely on it to make a living.
It also sends a worrying message about the unpredictable nature of regulators (and the perception they may be politically motivated) just at the time when London needs to attract further innovation and investment.